My summer reading has included several biographies of the Roosevelts, most recently No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin. These books show another side of the Greatest Generation: widespread racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, sexism, xenophobia, and other social blights that hindered recovery from the Depression and jeopardized national defense during WW II. More often than not, FDR remained expediently silent, declining to support anti-lynching legislation, ignoring opportunities to save millions of Jews from the Holocaust, and succumbing to the paranoia of his advisors to order millions of Japanese Americans into detention camps. Through it all, Eleanor Roosevelt rises far above her generation, a courageous champion for human and civil rights and a lonely advocate for making the post-war U.S. a true land of equality and freedom. Her birthday October 11 should be celebrated as a national holiday.
Not fully appreciating her greatness, I wrote to her several times when I was a kid. She always wrote back, and her thoughtful responses to a 15-year-old testify to her magnanimity. Here she responds to my inquiries about how to go into politics, and whether she thought 18 year olds should be allowed to vote.